A troubled D.C. charter school slated for closure may get a second chance at life, as another charter operator proposes to take over and keep the campus open.
The board of Monument Academy Public Charter School voted this month to close the campus at the end of the academic year amid financial and safety concerns, informing parents they should find new schools for their children.
Monument, which opened in 2015, is a weekday boarding school in Northeast Washington that has attracted big-name donors and received national attention for its approach to educating middle school students who have extensive learning and emotional needs.
But as staff members and parents scrambled to find new campuses, Monument received a proposal Friday from the Friendship Education Foundation to operate the school in the next academic year with fresh leadership. The foundation is the philanthropic arm of Friendship Public Charter School, a well-regarded charter network in the District that operates more than a dozen campuses and educates nearly 5,000 D.C. students.
Friendship already has plans to partner with or take over two failing schools in the next academic year that were on the brink of closure: Ideal Academy and City Arts + Prep.
The Monument proposal relies on an influx of private money to keep the school afloat. It is under capacity with just 100 students. The schools face a time crunch to determine the best way for Monument and Friendship to partner. Some takeovers require protracted periods of public comment and city approval, while other partnerships can be completed on a more expedited schedule.
Charles Moore, chair of Monument’s board, said the panel is considering the proposal and would make a decision in the coming days.
“The details of the proposal are not yet final, but what’s most important is ensuring a safe learning environment in which kids can progress,” Moore said in a statement. “We recognize the urgency of reaching a decision — as families are working to finalize their plans for the next school year — and that timing is a challenge.”
Despite Friendship’s success in the charter sector, this would be its first time operating a boarding school and a campus that targets students with special academic and social needs.
Friendship spokeswoman Candice Tolliver-Burns said the network has experience educating students from low-income families who face academic challenges.
Under the proposal, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Jeffrey Grant, a longtime D.C. principal, made a multiyear commitment to lead the school.
“We know how to turn a school from good to great,” Tolliver-Burns said. “And in this case, a school that has some troubles, we can elevate them to the place they need to be.”
The proposal states that education organizations have committed $700,000 to ensure the budget for the 2019-2020 academic year can support the school. Prominent education groups, including the Bainum, CityBridge and Flamboyan foundations, have committed to helping Monument, according to the proposal.
In 2017, when the school had about 80 students, Monument received an extra $12,113 in funding for each student from private grants and donations, according to public documents from the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the city’s 123 charter campuses. That was on top of the nearly $60,000 per student the academy received from the city for the boarding and education of middle-schoolers.
Problems at Monument were revealed last month after the District’s charter board called a meeting to address safety concerns.
Monument had met few of its academic targets and was expected to face staffing cuts in the next school year amid declining enrollment, according to the charter board. Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said he feared the academy could not operate safely with fewer staff members.
Pearson cited a large number of concerning behavioral incidents at the school, many of them violent.
D.C. schools receive funding based on how many students they enroll, and Tolliver-Burns said if Monument improves, more students will enroll, reducing dependence on private dollars.
For families, the prospect of Monument possibly remaining open fuels more confusion. Most still do not know where their children will go to school in the next academic year, with only 11 of Monument’s students having secured a new school, according to the proposal.
Ashleigh Wingfield, the mother of a rising seventh-grader at Monument, said she needs to figure out a plan for her daughter soon so she can know how it will affect her commute to her job in Northwest Washington. Wingfield has two other children at different campuses whom she takes to school each day.
“Right now, it has me in limbo,” Wingfield said. “For me being a single parent, planning is my best ally, and not knowing how my morning commute is going to be does have me a little nervous.”
In a letter Pearson sent to Moore about Friendship’s proposal, he indicated it would be possible for Friendship to take over the school, while not addressing specifics.
The charter board may not have to approve the partnership between Monument and Friendship, but the board would probably still press leadership on the school’s safety plan if it remains open.
Valerie Strauss is the author of the Answer Sheet blog.